Human Rights Council
21 June–9 July 2021
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development
This is the fourth report prepared for the Human Rights Council by the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Obiora Chinedu Okafor. In the present report, submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 44/11, the Independent Expert discusses how international solidarity in aid of the fuller realization of all categories of human rights has, or has not, been expressed by States and other actors in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. He discusses the serious threats to the enjoyment of human rights posed by the pandemic and the measures put into place to control it. He articulates the moral and legal rationale for an international solidarity obligation, including in the context of the pandemic, discusses examples of gaps in the enjoyment of international solidarity and identifies and highlights positive expressions of such solidarity by States and non-State actors, including best practices.
1. During the reporting period, the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Obiora Chinedu Okafor, presented his third thematic report to the General Assembly, in October 2020, in which he discussed the link between certain forms of contemporary populism and the enjoyment, or lack thereof, of human rights-based international solidarity (A/75/180). He thanks Costa Rica and Bolivia for their positive replies to his requests for visits and hopes to be able to undertake them as soon as possible, taking into account the current global pandemic and the consequential travel restrictions. He also thanks Malawi for its agreement in principle to accept such a visit and looks forward to agreeing upon a mutually convenient date. He humbly reminds other States about the need for positive replies to his requests to visit.
2. A novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has swept across the globe since its causative agent – first known as 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), but currently designated as SARS-CoV-2 – was first identified on 7 January 2020.1 On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. As at December 2020, over a million lives had been lost, with the toll sadly continuing to rise, although the rise is expected to wane in significant measure by the last quarter of 2021, due to the ongoing deployment of several vaccines against the disease. Despite there currently being many more people recovering from the disease, there are increasing reports of longterm debilitating health effects for some of the recovered.
3. The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to contain it have led to serious socioeconomic difficulties around the world. Nearly 90 million people are estimated to have now fallen into “extreme deprivation”. Recent reports indicate that:
(a) “Quarantines, travel restrictions and [the] lockdown of cities have resulted in a significant reduction in demand and supply. Economic activities in transportation, retail trade, leisure, hospitality and recreation have been battered. […] Public trust in the health response has direct and immediate economic effects”;
(b) China is the only Group of 20 economy that is expected not to contract in 2020. In smaller or weaker and more dependent economies, the economic slowdown has been even more severe, causing significant negative socioeconomic effects. The pandemic, measures to control its spread and the resultant serious economic downturns have, in turn, seriously threatened or harmed the enjoyment by billions of people across the world of, among other things, the human rights to health, life, education, food, shelter, work, freedom of movement, liberty and freedom of assembly.
4. While emphasizing the importance of human rights in shaping the response to the pandemic, in its resolution 44/2, the Human Rights Council underscored the central role of the State in responding to pandemics and other health emergencies and reaffirmed that emergency measures taken by States in response to the COVID-19 pandemic must be in accordance with States’ obligations under applicable international human rights law.
5. Yet, in spite of the central role that individual States must play in that regard, “international public health security is both a collective aspiration and a mutual responsibility”, thereby highlighting the importance of international cooperation, in particular during times of health emergencies and pandemics, on the basis of mutual respect. Such international cooperation, an aspect of international solidarity, which is aimed at the fuller realization of human rights, is required in fulfilment of certain international legally binding obligations assumed by most States. States are required to deploy their maximum available resources, individually and in cooperation, to ensure the enjoyment of social and economic rights, such as the right to health, in their territories, as well as not to prevent such solidarity among their nationals. There is absolutely no doubt that Articles 55 and 56 of the Charter of the United Nations, requiring all States to take joint and separate action in cooperation in order to achieve the human rights goals of the United Nations, impose a binding legal obligation on States to cooperate, including in the current regard. The mandate holder and his predecessor subscribe to, and work with, the definition of international solidarity contained in the draft declaration on the right to international solidarity, wherein it is stated that international solidarity is the expression of a spirit of unity among individuals, peoples, States and international organizations, encompassing the union of interests, purposes and actions and the recognition of different needs and rights to achieve common goals. In the draft instrument, the main components of international solidarity are also identified, namely: preventive solidarity, through which stakeholders act to proactively address shared challenges; reactive solidarity, collective actions of the international community to respond to situations of crisis; and international cooperation. The Independent Expert recognizes that international solidarity is not a State-centric phenomenon and can be expressed, withheld or violated by State and non-State actors alike. It is also not limited to international assistance and cooperation, aid, charity or humanitarian assistance; it is a broader concept and principle.
7. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the existing obligations to express international solidarity in the human rights field, including through international cooperation, have taken on a particular and renewed importance and urgency. It is therefore crucial that the ways in which international solidarity has, or has not, been expressed by States and other actors in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, towards the fuller realization of all categories of human rights, be more systematically studied and understood, including by the Human Rights Council. The present report is a contribution to that goal.
8. Accordingly, in section II, the Independent Expert examines the threats to the enjoyment of all categories of human rights that the pandemic and measures to control its spread have produced or exacerbated, using international human rights law, supplemented by the WHO International Health Regulations, as a normative framework. The threats are discussed in three subsections: economic and social rights; civil and political rights; and the right to development. In section III, he analyses the imperative of international solidarity for the realization of human rights in the context of the pandemic, outlining the ethical and legal rationales for this imperative, arguing in favour of the legally binding nature of the obligations highlighted. In section IV, the obligations are then set out as the normative framework for identifying the gaps in international solidarity in the context of the pandemic. In section V, he identifies and highlights some positive efforts and best practices, which is followed by conclusion and recommendations for States and non-State actors.